41st Annual Meeting – Wooden Artifacts Session, May 31st, “The Gordion Table Circa 2011” by Rick Parker

The Gordion table is one a multitude of artifacts, including more than fifty pieces of furniture, excavated from Phrygian tumuli in the 1950’s. The wooden objects were almost immediately warped and damaged by a large influx of moisture within the tomb. In the 1980’s a large scale conservation project began in Ankara to rescue the table and associated objects. The first time I read about the Gordion Table, and saw images of it conserved and reconstructed, I began to wonder how it might have looked when first entombed in the Phrygian Kingdom 2,700 years ago.

The original Gordion table after conservation and reconstruction. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Simpson.
The original Gordion table after conservation and reconstruction. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Simpson.

Luckily for me, Rick Parker has taken it upon himself to replicate the table based on original drawings and literature. A number of difficulties were encountered along the way and occasionally artistic and creative liberties were taken, for both technical and aesthetic reasons. The wood, for example, was sourced from Kauri logs from New Zealand which were 40,000-60,000 years old. He later used resin from this wood to varnish the table. This decision seems to relate more to personal taste as the original table was carved from  boxwood, juniper and walnut. Additionally, while doing the work he found modern era power tools to be virtually useless and had to fabricate more appropriate tools. The way the table was constructed meant it was very difficult to join the components and get them all to stay in plane. Interestingly, the original table has a hole in one of the legs that has been drilled and then plugged above another hole where the strut is attached. Rick found, when making the table, that his original measurements led him to attach the strut higher on one leg which then kept the table top from being able to sit flat on the legs. Like the original maker, he also had to fill this hole, drill another, and move the strut down.

Based on his own knowledge of ancient craftsmanship Rick believes the original makers must have had more skill, and more complex tools, than are currently attributed to them. To him, Simpson’s assertion that an adze was used to carve the legs is a point of contention. He also debates the idea that the table would have been portable, his reconstructed version being very awkward to move. In some ways the ability to handle this modern replica is one of it’s greatest assets. It also stands alone as a unique and beautiful object. Rick thinks of the original table as a work of art and while his version may not be an exact replica it lends a sense of reality to an otherwise mysterious object.

The replicated table. Photo courtesy Rick Parker.

For more information about the conservation of the original table see:
Payton, R. (1984) ‘The Conservation of an Eigth Century BC Table from Gordion’, in N. Brommelle, E. Pye, P. Smith, and G. Thomson, (eds.), Adhesives and Consolidants: Preprints of the Contributions to the Paris Congress, 2-8 September 1984, pp. 133-137
Simpson, E. (1983) “Reconstructing an Ancient Table: The ‘Pagoda’ Table from Tumulus MM at Gordion.” Expedition25, no. 4: 11 26.
Spirydowicz, K. (1996) ‘The Conservation of Ancient Phrygian Furniture from Gordion, Turkey’ in A. Roy and P. Smith (eds.), Archaeological Conservation and its Consequences: Preprints of the Contributions to the Copenhagen Congress, 26-30 August 1996. London: IIC. pp. 166-171
For information on the Gordion site and the artifacts in general see the wikipedia page which has excellent references:
The University of Pennsylvania also has a very in depth website detailing the site, the furniture, the tumuli and their associations with the historical King Midas: